NEW YORK (AP) — The Force was a little less strong with “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.” J.J. Abrams’ Skywalker finale couldn’t match its recent predecessors on opening weekend, but it still amassed a $175.5 million debut that ranked far, far away from all but a dozen films.
“The Rise of Skywalker” came in with worse reviews than any “Star Wars” movie except for 1999’s “The Phantom Menace,” which famously heralded the debut of Jar Jar Binks. “The Rise of Skywalker” has a 57% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes. Audiences, too, were relatively lukewarm to the movie, giving it a B+ CinemaScore.
That response may have muted what could have been a record-setting weekend. While Disney had cautiously estimated about a $165 million opening, analysts had pegged “The Rise of Skywalker” for around $200 million.
“The Rise of Skywalker” pulled in $374 million worldwide, according to studio estimates Sunday. The film was especially lackluster in China, as all “Star Wars” films have been. It grossed $12.1 million there.
Though it proved divisive with fans, 2017’s “Last of the Jedi,” directed by Rian Johnson, opened with $220 million. Abrams’ own “The Force Awakens” set a then-record in 2015 with a $248 million debut.
Such expectations did not await Tom Hooper’s adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats.” The much-ridiculed big-screen musical, featuring infamous “digital fur technology,” scratched out just $6.5 million in ticket sales, sending Mr. Mistoffelees (and Universal Pictures) home licking their wounds.
The $100 million production, featuring an ensemble including Jennifer Hudson, Judi Dench, James Corden, Idris Elba, Ian McKellen and Taylor Swift, came in well behind projections. It opened in a distant fourth place.
Holdovers “Jumanji: The Next Level” and “Frozen 2” both surpassed “Cats.”
“Rise of Skywalker” culminated a tumultuous period in “Star Wars,” finishing off both a trilogy and nine-film cycle begun 42 years ago by George Lucas. In 2012, Disney acquired Lucasfilm for $4 billion. While its stewardship of “Star Wars” has drawn mostly praise and enormous box-office proceeds, “The Rise of Skywalker” trailed both the much-debated “Last of the Jedi” and the 2018 dud “Solo: A Star Wars Story.”
In November, Disney chief executive Bob Iger told investors that “Star Wars” will go “into a hiatus” after “Rise of Skywalker.” The next “Star Wars” movie, not one in the Skywalker saga, isn’t scheduled for release until 2022. “Game of Thrones” makers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss recently pulled out of planned “Star Wars” trilogy.
Lately, “Star Wars” has been a more emphatic hit on the small screen. “The Mandalorian” helped launch the Disney Plus streaming service.
But Disney can still make considerable demands on theaters for “Star Wars” films. Disney charges theaters 65% of ticket sales, or about 10% more than standard, for “Star Wars” releases, and requires a run of four weeks.